DBT: Opposite to Emotion Action (An Emotion Regulation Skill)


For many of us who are emotionally sensitive and who experience dysregulated emotions (and more so in response to "triggering," or upsetting events), there can be a tendency to believe that if others have suffered, we deserve to suffer with them and that it would be unhuman to go about our lives in a way that would allow us to have some pleasure or to feel good when others are having this experience.

I am not going to get into the details of a recent news story that has many people, whether they have mental illness or not, feeling very triggered/upset, but I am going to tell you this:

Believing and/or acting on the thought "I don't deserve to feel happy when this is going on" is not going to do you or anyone else any good.  Of course we feel badly for others who have suffered. Many of us are immensely empathetic and caring.

There does come a point, though, when getting caught up other peoples' tragedies can be detrimental to our own well-being.

I personally stopped listening to the news since Friday night. I caught a few seconds of it today and was upset just over the snippet of information that I heard. I know enough. There is absolutely nothing more that I could find out that would make me feel better about what has taken place or the fear/anxiety that the situation has created within me.

From fear and anxiety, my emotions seemed to stay at sadness.

When we are experiencing an emotion that we want to change, we practice a DBT skill called "Opposite to Emotion Action," during which we change our emotion by acting in a way opposite to the current uncomfortable emotion.

Here's an example.  If you're sitting in class and you begin to feel very anxious, the action impulse is probably to run and get out of the class. If you were to practice Opposite Action, you would stay seated and allow the impulse to pass. Soon thereafter, the anxiety attack would end, and you would have successfully stayed for the duration of your class.

In the above example, we have the following components:

Emotion: Fear
Action Impulse: To run away
Opposite to Emotion Action: Stay put and ride it out.

Here's an example of how I used Opposite to Emotion Action today to deal with the sadness I felt.  It's going to seem really silly, but I actually challenge you to try it if you are trying to cope with feelings of sadness, depression, or are feeling distraught today.

I turned on the oldies station on the radio, and this song came on. My first thought was "I can't possibly listen to/get into this song." Then I pushed myself. I moved a bit to it. (I was washing the dishes at the time, mind you.)  I then noticed I began to smile. It felt good to let myself feel good, and it helped melt away some of the sadness.

Give it a try.  I'd be very surprised if you don't at least have a half-smile afterward:






When you're done, here are some more posts on Opposite to Emotion Action if you'd like to read up further:


The Power of Opposite Action
Altering Your Mood With Music (DBT Opposite Action)
Songs to Boost Your Mood (Opposite Action and Self-Soothe)
The Impermanence of Emotions: Using Opposite Action for Intense Anxiety
How To Change Your Emotions [IF You Want To]
Living "As If" and Turning the Mind to Avoid an Emotional Crisis



Thanks for reading.
More Soon.

2 comments:

  1. What a great read! I love to listen to music and can be found at times, singing and moving around my house to the beat of a song.

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